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How Do Hearing Aids Work?

Hearing aids are small electronic devices that you can wear inside or behind your ear to improve your hearing. The aid will make sounds louder, making it easier for many people with hearing loss to communicate with others, listen to things they want to and live a simpler life in general. This, of course, is a pretty complex piece of technology. So, how do hearing aids actually work? Here’s a little more information on the subject to clarify this!

The Basics

Let’s start out with the basics. A standard hearing aid consists of three main parts:

  • A microphone
  • An amplifier
  • A speaker

The hearing aid will receive sound through the microphone. This sound will then be converted from sound waves into electrical signals, which are then sent to the amplifier. The amplifier then increases the power of the signals and sends them to the ear through the speaker.

Often people experience hearing loss due to damage to small sensory cells inside the ear. These are often hair cells which help us to pick up on sound vibrations entering the ear. For many people, some hair cells have been damaged and are unable to pick up on sound anymore, while some survive and can still pick up on larger vibrations, successfully converting them into neural signals that can be passed into the brain. This is why people who are experiencing hearing loss may not be able to hear quieter sounds, but can hear if someone shouts or there is a loud noise.

As you can see, the hearing aid will amplify the sounds entering the user’s ear, helping them to hear them more effectively without the actual sounds having to actually be increased. The more damage someone has to the hair cells in their ears, the more a hearing aid will have to amplify sounds.

Types of Hearing Aid

Of course, there are a number of different types of hearing aid available on the market and different hearing aids will work in different ways according to the electronics used. Let’s start by looking at analog and digital hearing aids.

Analog hearing aids – this type of hearing aid converts sound waves into electrical signals, which are then amplified, as explained above. They are generally custom built to your individual needs, which ensures that they amplify sounds to the perfect volume for your needs. When you buy an analog hearing aid, a hearing health professional will be able to program it for you. Most aids will have more than one setting, which you can change to help your hearing aid to adapt to different listening environments.

Digital hearing aids – digital hearing aids tend to be more expensive than analog hearing aids. They convert sound waves into numerical codes, which are similar to binary codes used in computers. It will then amplify these numerical codes. This can result in a more accurate sound, as information about a sound’s pitch or volume can be noted, allowing your hearing health professional to create a wider variety of settings for different listening environments. The aid can be specifically programmed to amplify certain sounds more than others, for example people speaking more than background noise.

Styles of Hearing Aids

Behind the ear (BTE)

BTE hearing aids have a hard-plastic case that can be worn behind the ear. This is connected to a plastic earmold that sits in your outer ear. The case contains the electronics needed for the hearing aid to work. Then travels from the hearing aid to your ear through the earmold. 

In the ear (ITE)

ITE hearing aids still have a case that holds the electronic components. But they also tend to have added features like a telecoil. A telecoil is essentially a small magnetic coil that allows you to receive sound through the hearing aid’s circuitry, rather than its microphone. This, in particular, makes it easier for users with hearing loss to hear conversations over the telephone.

Canal aids

This third and final style of hearing aid that we’re going to take a look at is actually available in two different styles. A standard in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid will be especially made to fit inside your ear canal. A completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aid will be nearly entirely hidden inside the ear canal.

This may seem like a lot of information to take on board, but once you find the right hearing aid to suit your individual needs and preferences, you can generally stick with it. If you’d like any further information, please reach out to Live Better Hearing at 443-775-2950!